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New Jersey Lawmakers Pass Atlantic City Reform Package

11 January 2011 by admin

chris-christie3Chris Christie was elected New Jersey’s governor in 2009 on his promise to revitalize the state’s struggling economy. In particular, he wanted to reform Atlantic City. His first year in office saw no improvement on that front, with Atlantic City ending December 2010 with their 28th consecutive month in declining revenue. It has taken some time, but in a bipartisan effort, the state Assembly has passed five bills aimed at doing just that. Now it’s time for Christie to get out his pen.

One of the five bills, which would create a Casino Gaming Study Commission, has been sent to the Senate, but the other four have already passed the Senate and have are now waiting on the governor’s desk.

After the state Assembly amended the bills, they then declared an emergency session so they could vote on the legislation right away. One of the bills, as mentioned yesterday, establishes intrastate online gambling regulation for New Jersey. Only existing Atlantic City casinos can obtain Internet casino licenses, so the existing companies would benefit from the additional revenue. It is estimated that the industry could bring $350 million to the state annually.

boardwalkfacade_lrAnother bill is a bit controversial. It would ease regulation of the existing casino industry in Atlantic City. The Casino Control Commission (CCC) would lose their regulatory authority, with the task of regulating the industry passed to the state’s Division of Gaming Enforcement. The deregulation bill has been highly touted by Christie, who says that absorbing the CCC would have significant financial savings for the state, make casinos more profitable and encourage investment. Opponents worry about how it will affect player protection, jeopardizing the games’ integrity.

Another bill would increase the subsidies provided from casinos to the horse racing industry and fund increased horse breeding. From the beginning, Christie has called for an end to those subsidies, but for many horse racing venues, the subsidies are the only thing keeping them afloat.

The fourth bill is part of Christie’s call to establish an Atlantic City tourism district. That bill would grant more authority to the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA), giving them many of the functions currently tasked to the Atlantic City Convention and the Visitors Authority.

The aim of the tourism bill is to create a spruced-up section of Atlantic City that is more inviting for tourists. The tourism district would cover the eleven casinos and the Boardwalk, with the CRDA overseeing development, sanitation, traffic and police protection for the district. Aside from complaints from some that it would create a privileged city within a city, the main issue for the tourism district has been zoning, specifically where to draw all of the boundaries.

Last week, Governor Christie signed into law a bill allowing smaller boutique casinos. It reduced the required number of hotel rooms from 500 to 200.

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